thumbnail Teaching children how to learn in the 21st century

Cutting edge software developed at Newcastle University is teaching children how to learn.

The Digital Mysteries programme works using state-of-the-art technology to encourage Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4 children to work together and to think creatively about their answers and the way they work.
The aim is to reignite a child’s love of learning that can become forgotten in the classroom due to the pressures of targets and exams.
The software, created by Newcastle University based company Reflective Thinking and developed with teachers and pupils, will be used on the very latest innovation in education technology, electronic tabletops or smart tables. The hi-tech devices work like desktop interactive whiteboards and are set to be the next big advancement in teaching. Digital Mysteries can also be used with existing school technology, with a PC multi-mouse version.
Digital Mysteries is the brainchild of Ahmed Kharrufa, who came up with the idea while studying for his PhD at Newcastle.  It will be launched at Bett 2013, a showcase for technology in education, on Wednesday, 30 January in London.
The software sets the children a task (otherwise know as a mystery) and they then have to work collaboratively on the answers. Watch the children in action in this video. Using innovative tools to group ideas together, they can show the reasoning behind their answers. A special playback tool also allows teachers to look at how the pupils arrived at their answers.
Dr Kharuffa said: “Electronic tabletops are set to be the next big development in classroom teaching.  They are a brilliant piece of technology but we wanted to create software which could use them to their very best advantage, helping pupils think independently, work together and come up with creative solutions to problems set by their teachers. Digital Mysteries does all this and we think it will be a useful addition to any classroom.”
David Leat, Professor of Curriculum Innovation at Newcastle University, said: “The modern education system is very much geared towards children being taught in such a way so they pass their exams. What this means is that in the rush to get children to achieve good grades, a lot of creativity has been squeezed out of the classroom and pupils often don’t get the chance to think for themselves or develop a love of learning. Digital Mysteries combines the chance for children to use the very latest technology to inspire enquiry, creativity and a love of learning.”
The product has been developed with input from teachers and pupils from Longbenton Community College in Newcastle. They took part in the world’s first ever study of electronic tabletops in the classroom last year and the results of the research will be presented at the CHI 2013 conference in April.
Jon Foley, the school’s Head of Geography was involved. He said: “Students were impressed by the interaction and the hands on approach of the smart-tables. They were keen to explore the different functions that the table offered and this kept their interest and enthusiasm for the mystery exercise.
“The discussion and collaboration between the students was also very good, generating some interesting dialogue. They also appreciated the fact they could use the software to go back over resources and find out more about the mystery they were investigating.
“All in all it is a resource/learning strategy I would very much like to continue to be involved with given the opportunity in the future. I think In the future smart-tables will go on to be an integral part of any school’s future learning strategy involving ICT.”


published on: 25th January 2013

Key Facts:

  • Newcastle University is a Russell Group University
  • Ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world (QS World University Rankings 2014)
  • Ranked 16th in the UK for global research power (REF 2014)
  • Ranked 10th overall in the UK and 3rd for quality of staff/lecturers in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2015
  • Winner: Outstanding Leadership and Management Team and Outstanding Procurement Team, Times Higher Leadership and Management Awards 2015
  • Amongst our peers Newcastle is:
    • Joint 6th in the UK for student satisfaction
    • Ranked 1st in the UK for Computing Science research impact, 3rd in the UK for Civil Engineering research power and 11th in the UK for Mathematical Sciences research (REF 2014)
    • Ranked 8th in the UK for Medical and Life Sciences research quality (REF 2014)
    • Ranked 3rd in the UK for English, and in the top 12 for Geography, Architecture and Planning, and Cultural and Media Studies research quality (REF 2014)
    • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) top 20 strategic partner
  • 94% of our students are in a job or further training within six months of graduating
  • We have a world-class reputation for research excellence and are spearheading three major societal challenges that have a significant impact on global society. These themes are: Ageing, Sustainability, and Social Renewal
  • Newcastle University is the first UK university to establish a fully owned international branch campus for medicine at its NUMed Campus in Malaysia which opened in 2011
  • 90% Satisfaction level from our international students (ISB 2014)
  • Newcastle University Business School is one of 21 Triple Accredited Business Schools in the UK